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Candidates in the crowded race to replace 4th District Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire have scored a number of big endorsements in recent days as the campaign for the June 3 primary heats up.

On Tuesday, Windsor City Councilwoman Deb Fudge earned the backing of Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro, D-Arcata, and Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas. That is on top of support from a host of current and former elected officials and recent endorsements by the county Democratic Party, environmental groups including the Sierra Club, and unions, including SEIU Local 1021, the county's largest public employee union.

Former Obama administration official James Gore, widely seen as Fudge's chief rival, took the sought-after endorsement of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau. That adds to the support he's received from several elected officials, including three of Fudge's colleagues on the Windsor Town Council, and organizations including the Sonoma County Alliance, the North Bay Association of Realtors and the North Coast Builders Exchange.

Fudge and Gore are two of five candidates seeking the north county supervisor's post, left open because McGuire is seeing a state Senate seat being vacated by Santa Rosa Democrat Noreen Evans. McGuire has not endorsed any of the candidates and has not said whether he intends to do so.

Both Fudge and Gore say the endorsements are symbols of their credibility and electability.

"When you look at the breadth and depth of my endorsements," Fudge said, "it reflects the work I have been doing in the county for 20 years."

Gore said, "If people look at the endorsements I have — be they from individuals, from elected officials, or from groups — they see a wide base of support. And that's what's important about endorsements."

Former Healdsburg Mayor Pete Foppiano likewise said he is trying to paint a picture of himself with his endorsements. While he lacks the lengthy list of establishment groups supporting Fudge and Gore, he has the backing of a number of former elected and appointed officials who he worked with on the City Council, as well as a longer list of business owners.

Foppiano said he is trying to highlight his tenure on the council, from 1984 to 1996, and his subsequent experience running his own business. The endorsements are meant to reflect that he will represent small businesses.

"Nobody really speaks for them," he said.

The other two candidates in the race have lined up few endorsements. Keith Rhinehart, a former UPS supervisor who is currently a substitute teacher, said he deliberately made little effort to seek endorsements, preferring to push his business-friendly message in one-on-one encounters with voters. He said he is trying to run a "low budget" campaign based on door-to-door canvassing and social media.

Winemaker and pension activist Ken Churchill only entered the race last week, months after his rivals, and has yet to develop a roster of endorsements.

But do endorsement matter? Candidates say yes, but they admit that they are not usually decisive.

"Endorsements do show momentum," Gore said, and endorsements by groups can bring with them financial contributions and support from members.

Former Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, who is supporting Fudge, said an absence of endorsements tends to speak more loudly than their presence. "If you don't have them, you look like you're not viable," he said.

Indeed, it was a slowing trickle of endorsements that helped drive Healdsburg City Council member Tom Chambers from the race earlier this year.

"It's a ticket to money," Chambers said of a candidate's endorsement list, both directly through the groups and individuals who add their names and indirectly as a signal to other funders that you have some energy and organization.

Former Supervisor Eric Koenigshofer, who is supporting Gore, however, downplayed the significance of endorsements in local elections. Unlike state or national elections, he said, supervisor races are conducted at a small enough scale that voters are more likely to meet the candidates in person and form their own judgments.

That kind interaction is what Rhinehart and Churchill said they are counting on to overcome other candidates' financial and organizational advantages, propelling them through the June 3 primary. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, the top two vote-getters will face off on the November ballot.

"I'll accept all the help I can get," Churchill said, "but seeking endorsements I don't think is part of our strategy to victory."

You can reach Staff Writer Sean Scully at 521-5313 or sean.scully@pressdemocrat.com.

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